KENAI, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska agency that provides health care services to all veterans in the state is planning to expand its workforce.

The agency is looking to expand its staff from about 550 employees to 650, Alaska Veterans Health Care System Director Dr. Timothy Ballard said.

Ballard met last week with staff at the Kenai VA clinic where he hosted a town hall for veterans, the Peninsula Clarion reported .

President Donald Trump's administration increased the Veterans Affairs budget by about 6 percent, which provided Alaska with the funds to hire more workers, Ballard said.

The hiring focus will be on primary care physicians, but the agency will also hire support staff to help it continue tackling long wait times that Alaska veterans have complained about, he said.

The agency needs more physicians so it can avoid reimbursing non-VA hospitals that veterans might have to go to when appointments are booked. Paying back those outside clinics is a significant expense for the agency.

Last year, the Alaska VA health care system purchased about $130 million in care, Ballard said, adding that the agency probably could have saved about $10 million if it had more physicians.

Ballard, who has been on the job 16 months, said the Alaska VA has been chipping away at the issues veterans brought up concerning appointment wait times and access to care.

Ballard told attendees at the town hall meeting that same-day access infrastructure for mental health care is going into place now.

___

Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com